Stoke City Preview


Ok, first thing’s first, as we said the other day, a big chunk of this was going to be about Leighton Baines and the various permutations available to cover for his enforced absence. However, we used it all up in a midweek injury special.

As a small addendum to that in-depth analysis we obviously need to add a few extra bits of information regarding the Blues’ defence. First of all there’s the fact that Antonin Alcaraz played 45 minutes for the reserves behind closed doors – are they actually closed or is it just that no one really has any desire to walk through them? – and is in contention to play if Roberto Martinez does choose to go all wing-back on us.

The second point that the previous article got completely wrong was the assertion that Tony Hibbert surely doesn’t figure very highly in the new manager’s thinking. After saying that it was reported in the press, by people who actually know what they are talking about, that the doughty fullback is due to be offered a new contract to keep him at Goodison beyond next summer. It probably makes sense as you couldn’t imagine Hibbert being reintroduced to the wild could you, after a whole career at Everton? He’s one of those fellas you could see leaving and playing 22 minutes for Bolton Wanderers before being subbed and then subsequently retiring. Don’t be surprised if he eventually ends up in some sort of coaching role with the Blues – one of those vague ‘looking after the kids’ ones that all clubs just seem to hand out to ‘good lads’ who they like having around.

Apart from those two things though, the last article was right on the pesos. Are we getting to the point now where people are starting to realise ‘he’s not just pretending to be inept here, he really is clueless’?

No? We will. Let’s crack on for now though.

Stoke City, or ‘Stoowk’ as they are known to the locals. It’s an odd place, not quite Midlands, not really the North West. You might go there to get a new clutch for your van or maybe a decent deal on a second-hand taxi, but for most people it’s really just a motorway marker on the way home. If you haven’t had a piss by Stoke then you are holding it until you get home.

‘Ooh, I wonder what Stapelely Water Gardens are like?’

As for their football team, well, one of this season’s catchphrases in the Premier League is ‘Stoke play more football than people expect’. However, that’s not saying that much given that no one expects them to play at all following years of Tony Pulis sending out teams pumped up like a pitbulls with lazzy bands round their nackers, all two-footed tackles and slashing forearms.

There’s a new man at the helm at the Britannia now though, Mark Hughes, or Sparky as he’s often known, because everyone who meets him would like to see him get the electric chair. He really is one of English football’s odder figures, the softly-spoken Welshman who is almost uniformly despised by supporters across the land. You only had to see the frankly brilliant i.e. utterly crackers, demonstrations by Stoke fans when he was appointed to realise just how unpopular he is. Good going in what is, essentially, the entertainment business

hughes out

There are plenty of wankers in football, but Hughes seems to grate so much because of the transformation he’s undertaken in the public eye. His journey, if you will.

In his prime as a player he was a genuine hard-case – a diving get like, but still one of the hardest-working ‘handfuls’ of a centre-forward you could ever imagine. With his physical style and Kenny Powers haircut he gave the impression of an honest but passionate country boy, someone you could imagine driving a Land Rover across the moors, fighting in the local pub but then weeping like a baby over the death of his sheepdog.  Couldn’t you?

At some point during his managerial career though he just became all, well, ‘Pardew’ is probably the best word. There’s something about his Isaac Newton haircut, the weird Patton jut of his jaw and even the way on Sky Sports News he is always filmed getting out of an Audi and striding dead purposefully through some glass doors while adjusting the buttons on his suit with the oversized flower that says he just seems to really rate himself far too highly.

Everyone has their own personal ‘why they hate Mark Hughes’ tale, and for Evertonians there are two main reasons. Firstly, as a player he represents a period of utterly miserable signings under Walter Smith, when Blues were forced to look for the good in has-beens like him, Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola. Even typing that out there you wonder ‘did that actually happen?’

More recently though, as manager of Manchester City Hughes is widely believed to have acted like a right twat over the transfer of Joleon Lescott. It was a weird one that whole deal though – Everton came out of it smelling of roses eventually but it would be fascinating to know what really went on behind the scenes. David Moyes always insists that he never wanted the player to leave but the fact that City kept on coming back in for him made you think that they were being told in private that a deal could be done as long as they paid silly money and he handed in a transfer request.

‘Lescott is worth more than the sum total of all the bugle crumbs down Nigella Lawson’s cleavage,’ Everton never said at the time, because no one knew about her habits then, so this bit makes no sense.

Ultimately everyone was happy in the end though. Everton got the cash to spend on Sylvain Distin and, er, Diniyar ‘needs a full preseason’ Bilyaletdinov and Johnny Heitinga, City got their man and Lescott ended up with a league title and a platinum bathroom. Bingo.

Anyway, back to the present, and everyone is on a high following the derby dramatics, so this game has all the ingredients for an absolute stinker. Stoke will be happy with a point, and with all the energetic grewlers in their team they are better equipped than most to come and frustrate Everton. And if the Blues are as clueless at set-pieces as they were against the other lot then it could be an extremely uncomfortable afternoon.

Or we might just batter them. You never really know, do you?